Can you believe it’s been a whole year? At 8pm on Saturday, viewers of The Voice will have to put their excitement on hold for a week as the BBC gets on with the far more important matter of flying the flag at the 58th annual Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö, Sweden.
Last year 78-year-old crooner Engelbert Humperdinck crashed and burned into second-last position with 'Love Will Set You Free'. Fortunately the BBC has learned a valuable lesson from that disaster, and have drafted in dynamic young ingénue Bonnie Tyler with the power-ballad 'Believe In Me'.[youtube]cqXk_FRw62Q[/youtube]
In fairness to The Artist Formerly Known As Gaynor Hopkins, it's a much catchier song than The Hump’s rather dirgey effort, but it's safe to say that the chances of her bringing it home are fairly slim.
Still, for every quarter-arsed British effort, there are always a fair few bona fide corkers on display – as proven by Sweden’s still staggeringly brilliant 'Euphoria' by Loreen, which of course won last year and went on to top the charts in 17 countries and hit the Top 3 in the UK despite no airplay whatsoever. Not to mention the inevitable acts of unmitigated lunacy that help make the contest such a uniquely brilliant experience.
Here are a few highlights to watch out for:
Denmark: Emmelie De Forest – 'Only Teardrops'[youtube]k59E7T0H-Us[/youtube]
According to the bookies, the contest is likely to stay in Scandinavia for a second year, which will doubtless cause a large number of stupid people to make angry noises about ‘political’ voting, handily ignoring that the contest has also been to such diverse locations as Germany, Russia and Azerbaijan in recent years. Denmark’s Emmelie De Forest (seriously, what a name!) sounds like Marina & The Diamonds cutting a record with The Corrs, but far more wonderful than that prospect probably sounds. One listen and the chorus will be stuck in your head for days.
Norway: Margaret Berger – 'I Feed You My Love'[youtube]bgGiBRj0yns[/youtube]
Connoisseurs of icy Scandinavian electro-pop may be familiar with Margaret Berger, whose 2006 album 'Pretty Scary Silver Fairy' is literally very good and spawned the amazing and cruelly overlooked singles 'Samantha' and 'Will You Remember Me Tomorrow'. 'I Feed You My Love' comes on like Beth Ditto fronting Depeche Mode, and is exactly as amazing as that prospect probably sounds.
Germany: Cascada – 'Glorious'[youtube]Y77A9-hQAp0[/youtube]
Subtlety being ever the watchword of Natalie and co from Cascada, 'Glorious' essentially takes Loreen's 'Euphoria' and puts a massive donk on it. It won’t win any points for originality, but it’s still a mighty tune in any hands, and this year's most danceable entry by some distance.
Belarus: Alyona Lanskaya – 'Solayoh'[youtube]N4S4m9R-ffA[/youtube]
You can always tell whether it's going to be a good Eurovision or not by the presence of the obligatory budget‑J.Lo hip-wiggler. Thankfully, noted Latin hotspot Belarus has stepped up to the plate with this dated but hummable slice of complete nonsense.
Russia: Dina Garipova – 'What If'[youtube]1VwzdeRNjtA[/youtube]
Drafting in a collective of warbling octogenarian baking enthusiasts failed to bring it home for Russia last year, so they’ve gone back to basics with this inspirational powerballad straight out of the X Factor Winners Single Songbook* (*before Simon Cowell started trolling indie favourites).
Netherlands: Anouk – 'Birds'[youtube]xPDYbuaXlA8[/youtube]
Having failed to qualify for the finals eight years in a row, The Netherlands are even more rubbish at this Eurovision lark than we are. Enter Anouk – a big star at home and across the continent, and widely tipped to restore some national pride to the beleaguered Dutch. There are shades of Lana Del Rey to this moody torch song and it should be a welcome shot of understatement among the surrounding madness.
Ukraine: Zlata Ognnevich – 'Gravity'[youtube]pBBzyg_m4Qs[/youtube]
Another big favourite with the bookies, the Ukrainians can practically taste a second victory with this overblown Disney screamathon. Never a Eurovision nation renowned for their subtle approach to stage gimmicks, the smell of success has really tipped them over the edge this year. Zlata will be joined onstage by the world’s tallest man, who will play "a magical warrior whose job is to defend her on her journey through the magical forest". Sure.
Azerbaijan: Farid Mammadov – 'Hold Me'[youtube]tqr8AosdTrQ[/youtube]
Speaking of gimmicks, the Azerbaijani visual hook is equally impressive, if marginally less batshit. Farid will sing his song on top of a giant glass box in which an upside-down dancer will mirror his every move. Whether this stunt will sufficiently distract from the Des’ree-esque lyrics of the song ("Hold me/Just unfold me") remains to be seen.
San Marino: Valentina Monetta — 'Crisalide'[youtube]xi8mZ2ejLcE[/youtube]
Bless little San Marino. The smallest nation in the contest with a population of around 32,000, all they want to do is get into the finals for the first time. They might well do it with 'Crisalide', which starts off as a dramatic Italian ballad before kicking into full-blown disco mode for the final chorus. Expect a wind machine and acres of chiffon.
Romania: Cezar – 'It’s My Life'[youtube]8pNEEb6dzi8[/youtube]
Romania’s Cezar Ouatu looks like David Blaine, sings like Sarah Brightman, enjoys a sparkly suit and is no stranger to a bit of eyeliner. His song sounds like an unholy combination of disco, opera and Bon Jovi. This is Eurovision insanity in its purest, richest form and will doubtless be the 'down a shot' moment at viewing parties up and down the continent.